How to Write an Essay: Part 5


Hi, it’s Lisa here from Capstone Editing. Welcome to the fifth and final video in our series on essay writing. In this video, I’ll be discussing the very last step, finalising and polishing your essay ready for submission.

Before handing in any assignment, you must take the time to carefully edit and proofread it. This includes checking that:

  • you have answered the question in full without going off-topic
  • all guidelines you were provided with have been followed
  • your essay contains all of the necessary components (introduction, conclusion, topic sentences for each paragraph, a reference list or bibliography)
  • your ideas are sound and are supported by evidence
  • your ideas are clearly expressed, with no room for misinterpretation or confusion
  • the grammar and punctuation are correct
  • everything that should be referenced is referenced
  • the referencing is correct and complete.

I’ll explain each of these pre-submission checks in more detail.

To determine if you have answered the essay question, look again at the notes you wrote when you analysed the essay question (which I explained in the first video, ‘How to Begin’), as well as at the final essay plan (which I discussed in the third video, ‘How to Finalise Your Essay Plan’).

Now, compare these to the essay you have written. Does your thesis statement correctly answer the question? Have you followed your final essay plan? If not, why not? Is every point made in your essay directly relevant to the essay question, as it should be? Does each section link back to your answer to the essay question, as it should?

Ok, next, you need to ensure you have followed the guidelines. This is a very important step and should never be skipped. There is nothing more frustrating for a lecturer or tutor than to provide detailed guidelines for assessments, only to have them ignored by students.

So questions to ask yourself here are … Is your essay within the word limit? If your tutor or lecturer provided a checklist of elements to include in your essay or an essay marking rubric, does your essay meet all requirements?

Did you read and refer to all the required readings? Does your essay use the required referencing style? Does it contain a sufficient number of references?

Next, it’s time to check if your overall structure satisfactory is. Again, it’s important not to skip this step. Don’t assume that the structure is going to be perfect, even if you have followed all the previous steps correctly and followed your essay plan closely. There might be something that isn’t quite right about the structure that you didn’t notice before, perhaps because it wasn’t really evident until the full essay had been written.

This slide gives you the checklist questions to ask yourself about your structure.

Does your essay have a clear introduction and conclusion? Have you followed the rules for what your introduction and conclusion should contain, as outlined in the first video, ‘How to Begin’ and also in the fourth one, ‘How to Write Your First Draft’?

Does each paragraph have a clear topic sentence, linking each point to the thesis statement and ensuring that your essay is well structured? Do the ideas in your essay build on one another so that your argument gains strength with each paragraph?

Is there any topic, section or paragraph that seems out of order? For example, something that, if moved, would improve the logic flow?

Do you correctly use words and phrases to emphasise connections throughout your essay (for example, ‘in addition to’, ‘similar findings’ and ‘conversely’).

Ok, so that was a check of your overall essay structure. Now it’s time to check that your essay is well structured at the paragraph level.

Looking at your body paragraphs, does each paragraph develop only one main idea? Are the body paragraphs ordered in a logical way (e.g., most to least important)? Does each begin with a topic sentence that clearly states the point you will be making in that paragraph? Do the other sentences in the paragraph directly relate to that topic, supporting it with literature-based evidence, explanation, elaboration or examples?

And drilling down even further, are your individual sentences complete and correct?

Are all of your sentences complete? That is, does each make sense by itself, express one clear idea, and contain a subject and at least one verb?

Are your sentences of various lengths, but with none too short or too long?

Is each sentence grammatically correct? For example, have you used verb tense consistently, have you correctly used singular or plural verbs with singular or plural subjects, and have you checked your article usage with singular nouns?

Have you carefully checked your punctuation?

And now, take a step back again to consider your overall language use. Is it appropriate for an academic essay?

Have you used formal language, as appropriate for academic writing? Have you avoided using colloquial language, idioms and contractions (which are features of spoken and informal language)?

If you read your text aloud, does it sound smooth and elegant, or are there ‘clunky’-sounding parts?

Have you used inclusive language? (Remember, you must not use sexist or racist language or gender-specific terms, like ‘spokesman’ rather than ‘spokesperson’.)

Are there any words or phrases that appear a lot in your text that you could try to vary by using synonyms?

Where you have used conjunctions (e.g., ‘however’, ‘although’ and ‘further’), have these been used correctly, and is it necessary for your meaning to use a conjunction? (Sometimes novice writers think they have to start every sentence with a conjunction, but they should only be used when helpful for conveying your meaning.)

Have you performed a spell and grammar check and carefully proofread your work for typing mistakes or missed or misused words, which wouldn’t be picked up by the spell check?

The second to last step is to check if you have referenced correctly and consistently.

Have you included an in-text citation or footnote every time you have used the ideas or words of another source (e.g., by quoting, paraphrasing or summarising)?

For each of your in-text citations or footnotes, is there a corresponding reference list entry?

Have you correctly and consistently followed the referencing guidelines recommended by your department (or selected by you)?

Is your reference list or bibliography ordered correctly following the guidelines?

And now, you have reached the final steps you need to perform prior to submitting your essay.

Ensure that you have:

  • neatly formatted your essay, following all guidelines provided by your university
  • numbered the pages of your essay
  • attached the requested cover sheet with all information completed and correct
  • saved a copy of the final version of your assignment to a dedicated folder on your computer or an external hard-drive, so that you will not accidentally delete it. Saving a back-up copy in the cloud or printing a hard copy is also recommended. You should keep copies of all of your assignments for the duration of your degree.

If you’ve followed the steps outlined in all five videos in this series, you should now have a well-structured, fully researched and polished essay that is ready for submission.

And if you haven’t yet watched our other videos or read our articles about the specifics of academic writing and referencing, I really do recommend that you do so. This video series has introduced a method that you should follow for essay writing but hasn’t been able to tell you everything you need to know about how to complete each step.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the slides I’ve used in this video or any of the others in the series so you can print them out and use them as a checklist while you are working through the steps, please send us an email at info@capstoneediting.com.au or contact us through our website, and we’ll send you the files.

And if you need any further assistance, Capstone Editing is always here to help.

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